By Ron Bernthal

Nine sommeliers and food and beverage directors, from some of the top restaurants in the country, visited Epernay, France recently to attend workshops and champagne tastings that concentrated on the Dom Perignon brand.

Houses in small village of Hautvillers, near vineyards, in Champagne region of France

The visit, sponsored by the Union de Maison de Champagne, was attended by Linda Violago-Charlie Trotter’s Chicago; Gino Santangelo, The Forge Miami Beach; Scott Engelman, Hotel Victor Miami Beach; Scott Tyree, Tru Chicago; Phillippe Marchal, Daniel New York; David Reardon, Bacara Resort & Spa Santa Barbara; Shannon Ronalds, The Peninsula Beverly Hills; Matthew Turner, Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay (CA); and Patrick Gioannini, Mandarin Oriental New York.

Sommeliers at special Dom Perignon tasting with Richard Geoffrey, Chief Winemaker

The visit, sponsored by the Union de Maison de Champagne, included a dinner at Chateau de Saran with Dom Perignon Chef de Cave (Chief Wine Maker) Richard Geoffroy, an inspection of the Dom Perignon cellars in Epernay, a visit to the Abbey in Hautvillers, where Dom Perignon created the first champagne, and a special Dom Perignon tasting at Refectoire Des Moines, also in Hautvillers. The sommeliers learned about the art of producing vintage champagnes, how and why vintage years are determined, and how the vineyards are protected against disease, drought, and unusual cold weather.

Sommeliers inspect the vines at the Moet vineyard in Saran

Under a hot French sun, the sommeliers were taken to a vineyard near the historic Champagne village of Saran, where the company Moet & Chandon grows its famous chardonnay grapes, one of two grape varietals that make up the Dom Perignon brand. The sommeliers learned about the art of producing champagne, how and why vintage years are determined, and how the grapes are protected against disease, drought, and unusual cold weather. Pruning techniques were demonstrated, and a lunch was provided in the rustic “pickers”shed at the edge of the vineyard. Although the grape harvest is still two to three months away, the vineyards are tended to year-round by a small group of local workers.

David Reardon, the Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director at the Bacara Resort & Spa, in Santa Barbara, California, said that the two-day visit to the Champagne region of France was a great educational experience. He said that the private meetings and wine tastings with Richard Geoffroy, the winemaker responsible for determining what year’s harvest will become a Dom Perignon vintage, was a real educational experience, as was his dinner and overnight at Chateau Les Crayeres, a turn-of-the-century mansion that originally belonged to champagne family Pommeroy.

Les Crayeres is now a Relais & Chateau hotel property and its restaurant, which became one of the best in France under former chef/owner Gerard Boyer, is maintaining its reputation with Chef Didier Elena, who has worked on numerous projects with Alain Ducasse.

Jenna Fagnan, Moet Hennessy USA, and Jean Berchon, V.P.Communication, Moet & Chandon, at Chateau Les Crayeres, Reims, France.

Joining the sommeliers for dinner at Les Crayeres was Mr. Jean Berchon, Vice-President of Communications at Moet & Chandon, and a member of the Chandon family. Maison Moet was founded in Epernay in 1743 by Claude Moet, a wine merchant and broker. His son, Claude-Louis-Nicolas succeeded him and established the company’s reputation for fine wines, but it was the founder’s grand-son, Jean-Remy Moet who travelled the world, introducing Moet wines to business leaders and royalty, and opening new markets in Europe.

Moet & Chandon Headquarters in Epernay, France

When Jean-Remy handed over the company to his son, Victor Moet, and his son-in-law, Pierre-Gabriel Chandon, in 1832, the company name was changed to Moet & Chandon, sealing an alliance that would last to this day. The company, along with the brand Dom Perignon and other luxury products such as Louis Vuitton, are now part of the French conglomerate LVMH.

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